CATCO’s well-intentioned “Columbus Christmas Carol,” directed by new artistic director Leda Hoffmann, transports the Charles Dickens classic to the present, but loses some of its magic along the way.
Julianna González’s simplified version of the story, translated from her Detroit-based “Blessed: A Christmas Carol Adaptation” and running in 55 minutes, removes many of the plot points and nearly all of the luscious spooky and comic elements. of the original. while not only retaining but amplifying the story’s didacticism.
The virtual adaptation, which runs through December 27, focuses on the greedy Ebony Scrooge (Patricia Wallace-Winbush), who runs a payday loan service with the help of embattled Puerto Rican Cratchit (Frank Ruiz), whose son Tim (Andrew Pandolfi of Rinaldis)) is cared for by an invisible neighbor at his home while his mother – possibly deported? – is in the Dominican Republic.
Ebony’s story is narrated by her younger sister Fanny (Ernaisja Curry). Fanny, a minor character in the original, is a morally scrupulous and almost holy presence here. You are assigned the thankless task of verbally reinforcing each point the play has to preach, with lines like, “Here the lesson continues.”
Those lessons are taught by the ghosts of Christmas Past (Nadja Simmonds) and Present (Christopher Austin), who spend as much time fighting and exchanging weak pranks as educating Ebony.
Occasional references to Columbus (an Ohio state hat here, a reference to North Linden there) do little to set the story in this particular place.
Acting is one of the strengths of production. Wallace-Winbush’s unreformed Ebony is so wryly funny and down-to-earth that one almost wishes she didn’t have to be redeemed. Curry adds enough cheek to cut Fanny’s sweetness a bit, and Austin spices up his histrionic ghost with some lovely ham.
Shelby Holden and Tabitha Abney costumes, particularly those of the splendid ghosts in the dressing room, add a touch of welcome.
Technically, however, the production has problems and timing often doesn’t work, in part because the actors were filmed in their own spaces and then improvised on screen. The device of having actors move objects from one space to another is often cumbersome. Rather than looking at each other, they often appear to be looking to one side or the other of the character they are supposedly interacting with. Often times, the actor in one screen frame will appear significantly larger than the actor in another, or part of his head will be cut off, all of which detracts from the viewer’s immersion in the play.
It is difficult to know exactly what audience this work is intended for: it is too talkative and preachy to entertain children and too obvious to enlighten adults. Although the play is based on an intriguing concept, the execution of that concept falters.
Take a look
CATCO’s “A Columbus Christmas Carol” runs through December 27. Tickets are $ 20 per device and are available for 24 hours from the time the viewing begins. More information at www.catco.org